WASHINGTON — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), originally formed to assist U.S. Catholics in contributing to the spiritual needs of servicemen during World War I, will mark its 100th anniversary at its annual fall assembly Nov. 13-14 in Baltimore.
Over the century of its existence, the conference has sometimes addressed thorny issues, and this fall’s meeting is expected to spark lively discussion on the liturgy and immigration, as well as several notable elections of conference officials.
The bishops will come together for the first time as a body since the recent promulgation by Pope Francis of his motu proprio Magnum Principium, which has called for the extensive decentralization of the process of translating liturgical texts. At the upcoming meeting, the bishops will vote on the International Commission on English in the Liturgy’s Gray Book translation of the “Order of Baptism of Children.” The new text reflects the translation principles introduced in Liturgiam Authenticam, Pope John Paul II’s 2001 instruction that called for translations of liturgical texts from the official Latin to be as precise as possible and to be in close fidelity to the original.
With its greater emphasis on the role of local bishops’ conferences in translations, Magnum Principium may become a touchpoint among the bishops, although it is not likely that there will be a direct call for a total revisit of the translation currently in use for the Roman Missal. That much-debated translation into English for the United States was introduced only in late 2011, and the bishops will probably want to avoid another complex — not to mention very expensive — process of revising a translation that has just been approved.
However, there may be a desire on the part of several bishops who were opposed to the current translation of the Roman Missal to raise the feasibility of another round in light of Magnum Principium.
More pressing than liturgical translations is the issue of immigration, and the bishops will receive a report from their working group on the issue, headed by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles.
The bishops have been highly vocal and highly critical of the immigration policy plans and directives of the Trump administration in the year since the election. Particular concern has been expressed over the president’s decision in September to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and they remained disapproving after the White House released its “Immigration Principles and Policies,” a proposed list of priorities for providing legislative protection for the so-called Dreamers.
Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, the chairman of the Committee on Migration, wrote in response, “The administration’s ‘Immigration Principles and Policies’ do not provide the way forward for comprehensive immigration reform rooted in respect for human life and dignity and for the security of our citizens. They are not reflective of our country’s immigrant past, and they attack the most vulnerable, notably unaccompanied children and many others who flee persecution. Most unfortunately, the principles fail to recognize that the family is the fundamental building block of our immigration system, our society and our Church.”
Related to immigration, the bishops will receive an update on the “Share the Journey” campaign launched by Pope Francis Sept. 27 to promote awareness and support for immigrants.
The bishops will also hear several reports from committees and organizations connected to the conference, including the National Advisory Council, the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities and the newly established Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.
There will also be an update on the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders in America,” which was held in early July in Orlando, Florida, as well as reports on the preparations for the upcoming V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, the 2018 Synod for Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, and 2019 World Youth Day in Panama.
In addition to the reports, the bishops will conduct votes on the conference’s 2018 budget, the cause for canonization of the Lakota convert Nicholas Black Elk, a new secretary for the conference and several new committee chairmen for Communications, Cultural Diversity in the Church, National Collections, Pro-Life Activities, Doctrine and Religious Liberty.
The five committee chairs will serve for one year as chairmen-elect before beginning a three-year term at the conclusion of the bishops’ 2018 Fall General Assembly.
While seemingly a matter of little direct import to Catholics in the pews, the committee heads can play significant roles in shaping the tone of the conference on the key issues facing the Church and the country.
Conspicuous among the votes is the one for the new chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty that will find a successor to Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who has held the post since its creation.
The committee was first established in 2011 as an Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty for three years in the wake of the growing threats to religious freedom, such as the Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate. It was renewed in 2014, and at the bishops’ spring meeting in June in Indianapolis, the bishops voted 132-53 to approve its establishment as the permanent Standing Committee for Religious Liberty, funded independently of the conference and under the conference’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.
Archbishop Lori has been a major figure in spearheading the work of the bishops on the cause of religious liberty over the last years. He was a prominent voice in defending religious rights in the United States and also religious freedom around the world, and he will be long honored for his eloquence on the subject, as well as his ability to articulate the key threats faced by believers. The two candidates to succeed him are Archbishops Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, and Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Finally, on the Sunday evening before the start of the meeting, a Mass will be held in downtown Baltimore to mark the conference’s centennial anniversary. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, will be in attendance to mark the significance of the milestone.
What is now the USCCB began in 1917 out of the need for bishops to work together to assist the Catholic community during World War I (1914-1918).
Originally called the National Catholic War Council (NCWC), it evolved into the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC) in 1919 to serve as the organized voice of the bishops on the national scene. In 1966, following the Second Vatican Council, it was reorganized into two parallel conferences: the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC), a civil arm of sorts to represent the bishops in the areas of social concerns, education, communications and public affairs.
In 1997, the bishops voted to combine NCCB-USCC into one conference, to be called the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. As episcopal conferences around the world assume a greater role under Pope Francis, the centenary of the USCCB is a notable milestone, as the bishops seek to speak with a unified voice in a hyperpartisan and polarized age.
Matthew E. Bunson is a Register senior editor.
Editor’s Note: The Register will be providing in-depth coverage of the bishops’ meeting from Baltimore. See related editorial here.